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Commons outcry over Saudi executions

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FOREIGN OFFICE Minister Sir Alan Duncan joined the chorus of disapproval following the execution of 37 prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, April 24, Sir Vince Cable asked the Government to make a statement on the executions which took place the previous day.

Amnesty International has condemned the executions, which included the killing of a man who was under 18 at the time of his arrest, in contravention of international law.

The Middle East research Director of Amnesty International, Lynn Maalouf called it “another gruesome indication of how the death penalty is being used as a political tool to crush dissent from within the country’s Shi’a minority”.

The humanitarian organisation, which opposes capital punishment, say that the executions followed torture, unjust trials and forced confessions.

The Saudi authorities are thought to have executed 104 people so far in 2019.

Those executed yesterday were charged with terrorism offences. One man was crucified. Another had his headless body displayed in public.

Responding to the urgent question, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, Sir Alan Duncan said: “We are very concerned by the executions of 37 men in Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Office is working to establish the full facts.

“The UK Government opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country, including Saudi Arabia. We regularly raise human rights concerns, including the use of the death penalty, at the highest levels with the Saudi Arabian authorities.”

In response, Sir Vince Cable said: “We are in urgent need of a reappraisal of our relationship with Saudi Arabia given the fact that the continued mediaeval barbarism of the regime does not constitute the basis for a friendly alliance and indeed makes it an enemy of our values and our human rights.”

The UK Government encourages arms sales to the Saudi kingdom and trains members of the country’s security services in this country. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a war of attrition with neighbouring Yemen, for which it has attracted widespread condemnation for targeting Yemeni civilians.

The MP for Leeds North East, Fabian Hamilton said: “Publicly pinning one of the headless bodies to a pole as a warning is not only disturbingly barbaric and medieval in nature, but an abhorrent violation of human rights.

“According to the families of those executed, there was no prior notice that the executions would be carried out. That is a blatant flouting of international standards set out by even the most brutal of regimes that still use the death penalty.

“We know that some, if not all, of those executed, were convicted in Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court, which has been widely condemned by human rights groups as secretive, and which has in the past been used to try human rights activists, whom the state often wrongly regards as terrorists.

“We also know that at least three of those executed were juveniles—a clear violation of international law, which the Saudi regime appears to care very little about.

“Abdulkarim al-Hawaj was charged with participating in demonstrations, incitement via social media and preparing banners with anti-state slogans. Reports from human rights watchdogs in the country claim that he was beaten and the so-called confessions extracted from him through various means of torture.

“Mujtaba al-Sweikat was a student about to begin his studies at Western Michigan University when he was arrested at King Fahd airport, beaten and so-called confessions extracted through torture.

“Salman Qureish was just 18 when he was executed, but he was convicted of crimes that allegedly took place when he was still a child. The UN has condemned his sentencing and the use of the death penalty against him after he was denied basic legal rights, such as access to a lawyer.”

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards said: “The vast majority of those executed yesterday were Shi’a Muslims. To what degree do the British Government consider that the Saudi regime is using the death penalty as a means of quashing dissent among a persecuted religious minority within its borders?”

Sir Alan Duncan replied: “I do not think that this is the moment for me to give an extended thesis on such matters, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion. In many parts of the Middle East, the Sunni-Shi’a conflict is very intensive and creates enormous tension, difficulty and strife.”

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News

Town Council re-directs funds to food bank

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Ammanford Town Council has taken a decision to donate £1500 to their local food bank. The decision was taken to re-allocate funding from their events budget in light of the current Covid-19 crisis. This re-allocation will support the local food bank in maintaining their operations as they provide support to some of the most highly affected members of the community during these unprecedented times. Starting with a donation of £500, the council has made further subsequent donations, now totalling £1500.

Town Council Mayor, Julia Bell said:

I’m extremely proud of our decision as a town council, and of our fantastic volunteers. This is one of several projects the town council is running to support the community. We thank everyone for doing their absolute best in some very difficult circumstances.

Mr Jonathan Edwards, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr said:

“This decision by the Ammanford Town Council is highly commendable. The Covid-19 crisis is multiplying the financial pressures that face the more vulnerable in society, and the foodbank will play an essential role in the coming weeks and months”

For further information contact Jonathan Edwards MP on edwardsjab2@parliament.uk 07534984376

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Opinion: The Big Question Facing Kier Starmer – Jonathan Edwards

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In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis the election victory of Sir Kier Starmer as Labour Leader didn’t achieve the column inches one would normally expect.  As is customary, I would like to wish Kier well in his role.  I can not claim to know him as a person having only conversed on a few occasions, however I have respect for his debating ability, his considered tone and his eye for detail.  I consider him a serious politician.

The challenges he faces are enormous of course.   Labour have now lost four Westminster elections on the bounce.  His decision making must quickly shift from efforts to unify his party to the far more important task of presenting a credible challenge to the Conservative party at the next Westminster election.

Labour has a defining choice to make, and this decision will have far reaching consequences for all political parties operating in the British State.  On the one hand, Labour could revert to its usual tribal inward-looking tendencies.  However, essentially this would mean writing off the next election as a part of a wider rebuilding strategy aimed at the 2029 election.  A stark admission as it would mean Labour having been out of power at Westminster level for twenty years at best.

Alternatively, Kier Starmer could acknowledge that Labour on their own will not be able to challenge the Tories for power at the next Westminster election.  This path would then require Starmer reaching out to all the other opposition parties in Westminster apart from the DUP.  I am talking about more than just coordination of parliamentary activity in Westminster.  In a first past the post electoral system we are talking about the need for non-aggression pacts, and a joint programme of government.  I would go as far as to suggest that the government itself would need to be a unity administration delivering on the agreed programme.

Parliamentary boundary changes makes the task even more pressing.  Whatever one thinks of his opportunistic politics, Boris Johnson has succeeded in unifying the right of the political spectrum.   However, the centre and left have a host of parties vying for support.  In a political system based for two horse races, the end result is brutal as we saw in December.

What sort of programme could Plaid Cymru, SNP, Green, Liberals, SDLP, Alliance and Labour unite around?  There would be little difficulty in agreeing a progressive economic and social policy platform.  A proportional voting system would be a must to enable all parties to compete equally in subsequent elections.  The big challenge for me seems to be the constitutional question when it comes to Scotland and Wales.   For Plaid Cymru and the SNP there would need to be a commitment for a fully Confederal system leaving only foreign affairs, defence, and macro-economic policy reserved – the sort of settlement promised by Cameron and Brown on the eve of the Scottish independence poll.  This should be supported with House of Lords reform into an elected Senate of the Nations of the British State.   Both Wales and Scotland would also require the statutory right to hold independence referenda at time of their own choosing.  This should be uncontroversial as it is the policy of the Labour Welsh Government.

This is the very simple choice facing the new leader of the Labour party.  Does he want to be Prime Minister, or effectively a plumber performing a re-patching job on a tired and insular party.

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Community

Council to consider new regional relationship for school improvement

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Executive Board will meet next week to discuss the authority’s future as part of the regional school improvement consortium ERW (Educational Regional Workforce).

The council, along with authorities in Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea, has been a part of the consortium since it was established in 2014.

However, the Executive Board could decide to withdraw from the consortium to support a new arrangement for school improvement services based on the footprint of the Swansea Bay Region.

Neath Port Talbot Council has already served notice to withdraw.

Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, has recognised the many positive achievements of the consortium in recent years, but said it was right to discuss what was best for Carmarthenshire going forward.

“ERW has achieved many positive things, however it is fair to say that it has also navigated through some difficult times with changes in political and managerial leadership,” he said. “The large geographical area of the ERW footprint has added to these challenges.

“We truly value working with our neighbours, but it is timely to review the regional arrangements and potentially look to realign with other partnerships across the Swansea Bay City Region which could have bigger benefits for Carmarthenshire’s children and young people.”

The Executive Board will meet on March 16 (2020) to review the authority’s position, but has promised to work with partners to ensure a seamless and robust transition should members decide to withdraw.

Cllr Glynog Davies, the council’s Executive Board Member for education and children’s services, added: “We are committed to working in partnership and across local authority boundaries where this delivers benefits for our communities.

“It’s right to acknowledge the significant progress of ERW over the last 12 months, in terms of staffing and organisation, but we must be confident that we are providing the very best support for our schools and it’s timely to look at how this can best be achieved.”

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